Despite slow spring, Jackie Bradley, Jr. likely to start in center

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Jackie Bradley, Jr. has all of five hits in Grapefruit League play through 30 at-bats, but he is still on track to be the starting center fielder for the Red Sox when they break camp and head north at the end of March, according to Jason Mastrodonato of Masslive.com. Veteran Grady Sizemore, starting Saturday evening’s game against the Phillies, is also competing for playing time and is hitting .306 in 13 at-bats, but the Red Sox seem likely to side with youth in this case.

Bradley, 23, struggled in a brief taste of big league action last year, hitting .189 in 107 plate appearances. Taken in the first round of the 2011 draft, Bradley was rated one of baseball’s best prospects across the board entering last season.

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Phillies owner John Middleton is in Las Vegas with Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
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Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.

Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.

As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.